All 18 works at show of Spanish artist Maruja Mallo were fakes, say experts

Curator of Galician show honouring surrealist admits ‘we knew there would be a fuss’ over authenticity

A year after an exhibition celebrating the works of the pioneering Spanish surrealist artist Maruja Mallo closed its doors, a letter from experts has emerged claiming that none of the works displayed actually sprang from the hand of the avant garde painter.

Mallo, who died in 1995, was associated with the so-called literary Generation of 27, whose members included Federico García Lorca, Ernestina de Champourcín, Pedro Salinas, Rosa Chacel, María Teresa León and Rafael Alberti. Her striking, stylised works were painted in her home country and in South America, where she lived in exile for a quarter of a century following Franco’s victory in the Spanish civil war.

In January 2020 authorities in the town of Lalín, in the northwestern region of Galicia, staged a show to honour Mallo and Luís Seoane, another artist of Galician heritage. The exhibition, titled Precisely Made Magical Creations, featured 43 works produced by “two of Galicia’s all-time most important artists” during their time in Argentina between 1936 and 1965.

The exhibition, which ended on 13 March last year, was plagued by questions over the authenticity of the 18 works attributed to Mallo and some of those attributed to Seoane. Thirteen months ago, opposition councillors in Lalín asked the mayor, José Crespo, whether he was aware of rumours circulating about the fake Mallos, and what steps had been taken to guarantee the exhibits’ authenticity.

On Thursday the Spanish online newspaper published a letter sent to the Royal Galician Academy of Fine Arts a year ago by a team of experts who have catalogued Mallo’s work on behalf of her family.

In it they claimed that none of the paintings and drawings featured in the exhibition and attributed to Mallo were the work of the artist. Not only did none of the works feature in two key archives, the letter said, there were also no references to them in “the hundreds of articles published about the artist during her lifetime”.

Perhaps most damningly of all, the experts noted that “the quality of these works does not match the artist’s very demanding technique and rigorous way of painting”, adding: “Some of the works show mixed elements or motifs from original Maruja Mallo works that belong to different series or periods.” The letter called on the academy to take action over the exhibition and its catalogue.

Antón Castro, the curator of the show, told that he “knew there would be a fuss” because there had long been differing opinions as to how many works Mallo created. While he put the total at more than 300 – most of them unknown – the experts who signed the letter have authenticated fewer than 150, the paper reported.

Manuel Quintana Martelo, the president of the Royal Galician Academy of Fine Arts, confirmed that he had received the letter and said members had not yet been able to meet to discuss the matter because of the Covid pandemic.

“We will decide whether to issue a statement,” he told, adding: “We have neither the capacity nor the means to confirm or refute the authenticity of the paintings.”

The culture department of the Galician regional government, which supported the exhibition, has been contacted for comment, as has Lalín town hall.


Sam Jones in Madrid

The GuardianTramp

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